David Francis Ashdown (1929 – 2015)
Dad passed away on Sunday 17th May and I want to give you some idea of what filled those 85 and a half years if I can.
Dad was born in Capel in Surrey on 19 October 1929 to Lloyd and Amy Ashdown. Despite this place of birth, he always considered himself to be a Sussex boy. Dad had two older brothers – Reg and Bert – and later was to gain a younger brother Ray.
From our many conversations with Dad over the years he had a happy childhood. He used to play over the fields when in Rusper, Sussex or by the lake at Lower Roke, Witley. He enjoyed his academic studies - I recently read Dad’s final school report from Godalming Grammar School and noted that he was praised for his involvement in rugby, football, cricket, music, debating and drama - and at the same time he achieved top marks in his four A levels, or the equivalent. He was also Head Boy in his final year.
In 1947, Dad left school to complete his National Service knowing that he had secured a place at Cambridge University when he returned to civilian life. In the Army, Dad spent some time in Singapore and Malaysia where he acquired his taste for spicy food which he certainly passed on to the rest of his family. We still remember his top shelf spices – lime pickle and cayenne pepper which only he could reach.
When his National Service ended, he began his three year degree course in Chemistry at Trinity College, Cambridge. I am so pleased that the whole family attended a celebration of mum and dads Diamond Wedding Anniversary on 1st January this year in Cambridge which we felt was very appropriate. Dad and mum were so pleased and dad gave us all a tour around parts of Trinity College together with many stories about his time there which were enjoyed by all.
As you will know dad was a schoolteacher. He always seemed a very committed teacher to me and loved his work. I think I am right in saying he only had a couple of days off due to illness. He initially worked in grammar schools in Godalming and in Evesham and then in 1967 moved to a strange place up north called Hull where he taught in a comprehensive school for the first time. Dad seemed to really enjoy this new challenge in his life.
We all know teachers who have been important in our lives and very recently a former pupil of Dad’s, Donald Wigfield, sought him out and spent the afternoon with him and Mum. When we informed Donald of Dad’s death, he replied with a lovely email, which included these words:
“I am so very sorry to hear about your Dad. As you know he was an inspiration to me when he taught me between 1954 and ’56 and he essentially single-handedly gave me the career I subsequently enjoyed. The impact that he had on me was huge. Your Dad was a wonderful human being. Some people are just irreplaceable and he was one. I am deeply saddened.”
Dad’s passion for theatre and music led to him joining many local choral and dramatic societies – in fact we used to say he would find out what each group were going to perform and join them when something looked interesting! I also remember dad appearing on TV in a series called South Riding as an extra which we enjoyed seeing. This was a huge part of dad’s life and although I am clearly biased he was actually really very good.
In 1976, Dad got a new job as deputy head teacher in Stokesley School in North Yorkshire so the family moved even further north leaving me in Hull, my adopted home. Dad stayed at Stokesley until his retirement, age 59.
After dad’s retirement in 1998 they decided to move back to the Cotswolds and Chipping Campden. He remained very active, and as well local singing and acting groups Dad continued to grow countless plants and vegetables. After every visit his children and grandchildren would leave with bags full of whatever seasonal fare was on offer: leeks, raspberries, rhubarb, runner beans, whatever you fancied. Dad and Mum also took the opportunity to travel extensively from Croatia to Costa Rica, from Norway to New Zealand. Each one left them with wonderful memories of extraordinary places. They also enjoyed holidaying with their children and grandchildren from time to time.
Dad was a great lover of nature, and made many trips on birdwatching holidays. He was very pleased to have Mark and Niall join him on separate trips too to Tunisia and Hungary respectively.
To pretty much the end of his life Dad had a daily routine of waking up, opening the curtains and noting down the different birds he could see in the garden for a continuous RSPB survey. The diary and binoculars sit on the window-sill still.
Of course there is much more to say about Dad. He has a vast collection of books, including the New Naturalist series and his annual editions of the Wisden cricket almanacs. He found poetry and music very inspirational and moving and we will be hearing some of that today.
My dad was a gentleman, and by that I mean a gentle man. He was kind and caring to all he met and did not speak ill of many at all. He was also very caring to others as a whole which is confirmed by a long list of charities to which he regularly donated money.
I have often described my dad as “the most intelligent man I know” – his wide knowledge of so many things was at times amazing to me. His intellect didn’t always go hand in hand with common sense however. We all seemed to have experienced Dad’s incredible lack of ability to calculate how much rice would be needed to feed any number of people – almost every time we would end up with not quite enough!
I know I can speak on behalf of my siblings by saying we were very proud of our father – Dad was loved by many people but specifically loved by one wife, four children, three daughter in laws, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren.